Monday February 20, 2017

M.G. Vassanji explores the trouble of not forgetting

In M.G. Vassanji's dystopian future, physical impediments to immortality have been overcome and its characters wrestle with the challenges of eternal life.

In M.G. Vassanji's dystopian future, physical impediments to immortality have been overcome and its characters wrestle with the challenges of eternal life. (Derek Shapton)

Listen 13:27

M.G. Vassanji's novel Nostalgia is set in the not-so-distant future where some people have managed, through science, to live forever. Along with new body parts come new identities and life stories; old memories and backgrounds are destroyed. But sometimes they fall prey to "leaked memory syndrome," a disorder that threatens the one's individuality and ultimately this new world order.

In Nostalgia, science has created marvels and wreaked havoc, with some struggling for shrinking resources while others achieve immortality.

Nostalgia was defended on Canada Reads by Jody Mitic. The book was eliminated on Day Two of the debates.

Brave new world

The idea came to me quite a while back — 15 years ago. People tell you to forget the past and you wonder, is that completely possible? And you realize that even the tiniest thing in the present can bring back a whole lot of things. 

Science has made it possible for people to live longer now, and there are people who talk about living forever... not just speculatively, too. They're planning for it.

The problem with the past

For some people, past memories are extremely painful and doctors are dealing with this even now. For others, like artists, your past is a material for creation.

In some cases you don't want to remember the traumatic events of your life. In this book, there are people who want new lives for cosmetic reasons: their ego, getting tired of the old and wanting to start again. Otherwise you have too many memories, as you know. We think of it as a syndrome of growing old, but there's just too much. I still wonder if people live to 100 and beyond, what do you do with the past?

M.G. Vassanji's comments have been edited and condensed.